What it’s like to use the Internet in North Korea

North Korea is famously closed off, but even hermetic nations need to get online from time to time. A new BBC report has some fascinating insights into what surfing the Web there is like.

Everyday North Koreans don't have access to the Internet, but the government has set up a country-wide intranet of sorts, with content limited to state-run news and walled-off message boards.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Visitors to Pyongyang's sole Internet cafe will find themselves logging into North Korea's custom-built operating system, Red Star, and greeted by a readme file about "how important it is that the operating system correlates with the country's values."

From there, it's sure to be anything but the typical Internet-surfing session:

Whenever leader Kim Jong Un is mentioned, his name is automatically displayed ever so slightly bigger than the text around it. Not by much, but just enough to make it stand out.

The computer's calendar does not read 2012, but 101 - the number of years since the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country's former leader whose political theories define policy decisions.

Reporters Without Borders - an organisation which monitors global press freedom - said some North Korean "journalists" had found themselves sent to "revolutionisation" camps, simply for a typo in their articles.

 

Despite the cloistered nature of the North Korean Web, some experts say people there are overall slowly gaining access to illicit forms of outside media. A May 2012 report from the research group Intermedia found that North Koreans are obtaining an increasing amount of information from the outside world through foreign radio, T.V., DVDs and a small number of smuggled Chinese cell phones. While punishment for accessing outside media is severe, repercussions can sometimes be skirted through bribes or simply neglecting to report one's neighbors.

The trend means that as North Koreans learn more about the world beyond their borders, they'll likely become less satisfied with their impoverished lives.

"I was told when I was young that South Koreans are very poor," one 31-year-old North Korean defector told Intermedia, "but the South Korean dramas proved that just isn't the case."

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